Federal Communications Commission

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The Cost of Digital Exclusion

March 9th, 2010 by Brian David - Adoption and Usage Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

By Brian David, Adoption and Usage Director , John Horrigan, Consumer Research Director, and Scott Wallsten, Economics Director (Adoption and Usage Team)

For those following how the Broadband Task Force has characterized the problem of non-adoption, the term “cost of digital exclusion” is familiar. The idea has roots in the academic literature, where Rahul Tongia and Ernest Wilson have argued in “Turning Metcalfe on His Head: The Multiple Costs of Network Exclusion” that the costs of not being online rise faster than the growth of the network. Blair Levin’s “Wired for Social Justice” speech touched on this idea in noting the societal benefits that come about from getting more people online.

A new report prepared by the Digital Impact Group and Econsult Corporation (DIG/EC) adds to the discussion by attempting to quantify the economic impacts associated with digital exclusion. The DIG/EC report, The Economic Impact of Digital Exclusion, finds that the aggregate costs of having one-third of the nation without broadband access comes to $55 billion per year when looking across 11 areas of impact (e.g., health, education, economic opportunity). 

We note that the estimated cost should be approached cautiously.  In addition to the inherent data-related challenges in this kind of undertaking, the report explicitly does not attempt to estimate the net benefits - it does not include the cost of programs that may be necessary to bring about the growth in broadband access that create the estimated benefits.

Nonetheless, we hope that the DIG/EC study will spur an ongoing discussion of the costs of digital exclusion.  Such a discussion among policy-makers, practitioners and economists is crucial to building an inclusive broadband future.  As Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) observed in The Challenge of Digital Exclusion in America: A Review of the Social Science Literature and Its Implications for the U.S. National Broadband Plan, “digital exclusion can be seen as exacerbating the underlying problems of social exclusion and inequality.” The DIG/EC study helps us think of the potential opportunities that may come about if more people have broadband access, while challenging analysts to do more to understand the costs of getting there. 

As we approached today's Digital Inclusion Summit, DIG/EDC and CFA remind us of the stakes involved with closing gaps in home broadband access. Broadband is a pathway to benefits that the already-wired among us take for granted: news about our communities and government, better understanding of health care challenges, more information for purchase decisions and job search, and staying in touch with family and friends. The DIG/EC study helps us think in dollar terms about the potential scope of benefits, and CFA focuses on how digital exclusion can harden established patterns of inequality – possibly making it even more costly over time to address access gaps. Stayed tuned for how the Broadband Plan proposes to address these gaps.

Broadband Adoption: If We Build It, Will They Come?

August 25th, 2009 by Brian David - Adoption and Usage Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Brian DavidOne of the challenges facing the Broadband Task Force is a question inspired by the 1989 classic film, "Field of Dreams": if we build it, will they come?  As John mentioned in his post, the 37% of Americans who have not adopted home broadband have a unique set of concerns, needs and barriers to overcome. Our two afternoon workshops on Wednesday, "Low adoption and utilization" and "Programmatic efforts to increase adoption and usage," addressed this topic.

The speakers during the panel on low adoption represented demographic groups who tend to have high numbers of non-adopters as well as the businesses and organizations working to bring those groups online.  We heard from speakers on the reasons why senior citizens, Native Americans, small business owners, Americans living in rural areas and African Americans tend to be underrepresented relative to the general population.  While at first glance these are very different groups, what was striking was the common thread-people will adopt when they feel they have the skills, devices and applications they need to shape and control their broadband experience. And they will do so more readily when they have the "social infrastructure" of family, friends and neighbors that is already broadband-adopting. That infrastructure is critical both because it prompts them to adopt broadband, and because it trains and supports them as they figure out a new technology (and in many cases, figure out how to use a computer for the first time).

Our final panel of the day picked up on this point by bringing together a group of folks representing the many programs designed to get people the skills, devices and applications they need.  Again, a few common themes emerged.  Successful programs tend to have high personal interaction in the initial stages (see ‘social infrastructure" point above), content packaged in a way that is accessible to the user, and an end goal that sees broadband as a tool to enrich life.  One other key takeaway from this group was the notion that an adoption program's success can and should be measured.  Developing those metrics for evaluation will be one of the many areas where will be seeking additional input.

When the other members of the Adoption team read this blog post, they told me my Field of Dreams reference was too obvious, so I figured I should go for something more obscure to end.  At one point in the film, as the main character is starting to give up on his vision of building a ball field, he hears a voice again.  This time it says to him "go the distance."  In the coming months, we'll be looking to "go the distance" toward increasing adoption rates among all Americans, and we'll be reaching out for your help along the way.

Note from Today's Workshops

August 19th, 2009 by Brian David - Adoption and Usage Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Brian DavidAfter over six hours of workshops on topics related to adoption and usage today, I have reams of notes, a number of next steps, and a long list of great ideas. I will be back soon to tell you more about what I think we learned today, and how it gets us closer to our goal in February. Thanks to all who participated and brought such energy, passion and insight to the workshops.

Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones